Glasgow 2014: Bankier targets Commonwealth medal

Star eager to atone for Olympic flop. Picture: Getty
Star eager to atone for Olympic flop. Picture: Getty
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Jamaica 1966 was when badminton made its Commonwealth Games debut and one of Scotland’s sporting legends, Bob McCoig, set the standard with a bronze in the mixed doubles alongside Muriel Ferguson, as well as fourth places in both the singles and the men’s doubles.

Scotland’s highlight has undoubtedly been Dan Travers’ and Billy Gilliland’s gold in the men’s doubles at the 1986 Games in Edinburgh.

Meadowbank rocked that night as two Scottish heroes outplayed England’s Nigel Tier and Andy Goode.

At the same Games, Gilliland, who had won silver with Joanna Flockhart in Edmonton in 1978, and Christine Heatly claimed a bronze in the mixed doubles.

A first women’s doubles medal was a bronze for Elinor Middlemiss and Sandra Watt at the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur and then Scotland finally stood on the team podium at Manchester 2002.

Susan Egelstaff’s claim to fame came at Melbourne in 2006 with a first Scottish singles medal, a bronze in the women’s event.

So what can we expect at the Emirates Arena next summer?

As the clock ticks down, Imogen Bankier, who picked up a silver medal at the 2011 World Championships, summed up the prospects and gave an inkling of the buzz running through a Scottish camp coached by the hugely influential Chinese woman, Yvette Yun Luo.

“It’s going to be such an exciting event,” said the Glasgow 25-year-old. “It’s mostly a young team but we’ve also got some experience and I definitely think we have the capacity to go for a medal.”

The rankings prove her point. An undefeated run at the Sudirman Cup in Malaysia in May means Scotland are up to No 19 in the world – a 17-place rise in under a year. In terms of the Commonwealth, Scotland are sixth behind Malaysia, India, Singapore, England and Canada.

“It was great to finish top of the second tier at the Sudirman Cup,” added Bankier. “Now we’re pretty close behind England, which is always encouraging.”

This season has already been fruitful. In August, Patrick Machugh and Martin Campbell won the Bulgarian Eurasia Open men’s doubles.

Bankier, albeit with her Bulgarian partner Petya Nedelcheva, has claimed a women’s doubles hat-trick of the Kharkov, Belgian and Czech International titles and Kirsty Gilmour retained the Czech women’s singles.

Next month, the Scots – and a host of Commonwealth players – will get the chance of a Games rehearsal at the Scottish Open at the Emirates Arena, a tournament bumped up to Grand Prix status this year.

“This year’s Scottish Open will attract many of the top-class players as they grab the chance to sample conditions,” said Badminton Scotland chief executive Anne Smillie.

“The recent rise in the team rankings shows investment in Scottish badminton is starting to pay big dividends and it’s all down to the effort put in by the players and coaching staff as well as the world-class facilities.”

Gilmour, the world No 34, competed as a teenager at the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi. “That was an unbelievable experience,” she said. “But, back then, I was there for experience. In Glasgow, there will be more expectation and pressure. But I’m really looking forward to it.”

Due to injury, Bankier missed the 2012 Scottish Open – the first at the new arena. But she will be back this time to try to add to her two wins at the Kelvin Hall – with Blair in the 2007 mixed doubles and in the same event with Chris Adcock in 2010.

Following her post-London 2012 move back to Scotland, Bankier has teamed up with Nedelcheva in women’s doubles and she is set to join Blair in a bid for more mixed glory. The pair reached the world top ten in their first spell in tandem. In their second season together, Bankier and Nedelcheva have soared to No 40 in the rankings and they are now are the pair that all the seeds want to dodge.

“Our goal is to medal at the European Championships,” said Bankier. “Another priority will be to get working hard with a Scottish partner so I am ready for the Games.

“I’m really looking forward to the Scottish Open. Now that it has Grand Prix status it is going to be even better. The entry is certain to be really good.”

Bankier is more aware than most that the Commonwealth Games will be pressure-laden. Following her 2011 world championship medal, she and Adcock went into London 2012 classed as medal contenders but failed to make it past the group stage.

“I’m still disappointed about what happened,” she admitted. “London 2012 wasn’t my best experience but at least I’ll always be an Olympian.”

So home advantage worked for Bankier at the 2011 worlds at Wembley – and added to the pressure at London 2012. With her extra experience, Glasgow 2014 could be another perfect showcase for one of Scotland’s best-ever players.